Life after kidnapping

SINGKIT - Doreen G. Yu - The Philippine Star

It was a gathering of people with a shared nightmare, that of being kidnapped. Plucked from the ordinary tasks of life – going to work, to school, driving home at night – they were taken against their will and held in exchange for money, the dastardly “business” of KFR, kidnap for ransom.

Yet they consider themselves lucky, for there are others who never made it, killed deliberately by the criminals or accidentally in rescue operations. And then there are those whose fate remains unknown, whose families do not know what happened to them or, if dead, can not even give them a proper burial.

Last Saturday’s gathering of the Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) was somewhat of a celebration – of its 31st anniversary, of the Lunar New Year (the Philippine Ling Nam Athletic Federation, winners in international competitions and beating even Chinese teams, did a spirited lion dance) and a book launch (more on that later).

All victims or family of victims of KFR, the members of MRPO number around a hundred, not only Tsinoys but Pinoys, Japanese and Pakistani. It was founded in 1993 after 15-year-old student Charlene Sy was killed and her funeral drew thousands out into the streets in protest, with the banner, “After Charlene, who’s next?” Unfortunately, there were others – too many – who came next, victims of a crime spree that seemed uncontrollable.

The early 1990s – the whole decade actually – was a dangerous, fearful time for the Tsinoy community. Parents who could afford it sent their children abroad; entire families migrated, selling off or closing their businesses in what The New York Times labeled as “Asia’s kidnap capital.” I have to say I was no exception. Driving home from work one night on Magsaysay Blvd. in Sta. Mesa, my car was rear-ended. Paranoid perhaps, but instead of stopping, I drove off as fast as I could; a dented fender was not worth the risk of what might be a kidnap attempt.

KFR hogged the headlines for years, for decades even. The MRPO – founded by fearless crime-fighter Teresita Ang See, the nemesis of corrupt law enforcers complicit with criminals – worked with victims and their families, with police and prosecutors, faced down criminals and even threats to their lives. They won hard-earned victories when kidnappers were arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced, but these victories were a minuscule percent of the actual incidences of the crime of kidnapping. One has thus to wonder how many other criminals have gone scot-free, living off the blood money of ransom payments.

On March 19, at the sala of Judge Caridad Lutero of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 223, will be the promulgation of the case of kidnap victim Sally Chua, who was taken from her office in Quezon City in July 2013 and taken by car and RORO to Davao City, where she had told her captors to go (instead of the Visayas) so she could withdraw the rest of the ransom payment. A shootout with police outside the bank ended with three kidnappers dead. The rest were taken into custody and their case will finally be decided on March 19, almost 11 years after the crime.

*      *      *

“Never in my life did I expect to be a victim of kidnapping.” That statement possibly holds true for all kidnap victims. It was certainly how Ka Kuen Chua felt that September night in 2008 when, a few minutes before midnight, he was shot at then taken at gunpoint. He recounts his harrowing experience in a book, “2X: Life After Kidnapping” launched at that MRPO event last week.

And yes, he was kidnapped – twice, the first time held for 18 days, gagged, blindfolded, chained, beaten, starved, tortured as negotiations for his ransom dragged on. The second time was surprisingly different, but I won’t spoil the suspense by saying how it turned out.

Suffice it to say that the book reads like – and could very well be – a movie script, for Ka Kuen carefully observed and committed to memory, as much as he could, details of the ordeal as well as of his captors. It is an easy but certainly compelling read (the book is available at the MRPO secretariat at the Kaisa Heritage Center in Intramuros, call 8527-6083/85 and look for Lisa or Mara).

From kidnap victim, Ka Kuen has become a staunch advocate against kidnapping (he was MRPO chairman for 10 years) and for justice and judicial reform. “I hope that this book will serve as an encouragement and a reminder to others that there is more work to be done in our advocacy for justice and peace, and our fight against crime. I hope that this book will rally more allies that the MRPO, on behalf of kidnapping victims, can count on for support,” he said at the launch.

Kidnapping, unfortunately, continues to this day. Current cases involve Mainland Chinese victimizing fellow Chinese, and not just POGO (online gaming)-related victims (money changers and remittance service workers, a female plastic surgeon and a nutritionist were among the victims). The perpetrators are ruthless, and merciless, torturing the victims before killing them, even after ransom was paid.

It is easy to shrug the current situation off as a problem of the new Chinese immigrants (“buti nga magpatayan sila” is a common sentiment), but as Ka Kuen points out, it could very easily spill over into mainstream society. In fact, it already has, with the recent kidnapping of a local hardware store owner whose body, bearing torture marks (a video of his big toe being cut off was sent to his family), was later found despite payment of ransom.

Indeed, there is still much work to be done before MRPO achieves its goal of becoming irrelevant, its advocacy against the scourge of kidnapping and crime no longer a burning issue.

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